Monday, April 21, 2014

Animal: Plan-it

Painstakingly named animals appear in almost every one of my books. They aren’t magical beasts, or bats in the belfry; these creatures of my creation evolved, doing what they do best: enhancing the story with attitude and body language.

Bilgewater in Kill Fee and its sequel Medium Rare is a pivotal player in the plot, a key to the conundrum. Meet Bilgie, my India Hill Mynah bird, the foul-mouthed fowl who helps solve the crimes. The steely eyed grackle was carefully chosen. No grey African parrot without a mind of his own is he. He has a back story befitting a reprobate, foil to ex-lovers and annoyer of cats like Cufflynx.

Ogden Nash once wrote in his short poem, “The Grackle.”

The grackle's voice is less than mellow,
His heart is black, his eye is yellow,
He bullies more attractive birds
With hoodlum deeds and vulgar words…

The cat in question is a cowardly gentleman, formally attired in his tuxedo, with a black dot on each of his white front paws. Cufflynx it the hero’s helper. The animal interaction is a spritely counterpoint to a few serious issues such as murder.

Not all cats are mischievous. Some reflect the hero or heroine’s emotions, hence a small gray tabby, Lilliput, in Daughters of the Sea. She listens with perked ears to all Laura’s troubles.

In my first book now out of print, Rolex, a golden retriever leads the pack to the mystery imbedded in a small Florida town. Rolex, the watch dog, knows where the bodies are buried.

To lighten the load in my only Gothic novel, The World, the Flash and the Devil, set in 1904-1929, the nuns in my heroine’s convent named their English Bull Mastiff Lucifer for a little bit of devilment.

Sherman is a less intense golden retriever. His body language plays an important role in Mortal Coil. my first cozy mystery. Those of you familiar with Labs and retrievers know they are non-threatening yet loyal. They are discerning in their personal friendships, but accepting of guests. When Ellen, our amateur sleuth begins to date Bill, the hero cop, Sherman, an Ohio transplant and DamnYankee dog demonstrates trust. And he’s right. Our hero is a keeper.

Bill laughed softly under his breath. “Since you’re up for a challenge, I could go for a cup of coffee; it’s going to be a long night.” He glanced down at Sherman sleeping at his feet, chin over his instep. “Your watchdog seems to be a passive creature, but he has me glued to the floor.”

Sherman thumped his tail in approval and sniffed at Bills socks, checking out his scents.

“I was looking at the new K-9 puppies we just got for the Unit before I left work today, Sherman. Did you get a message from your ‘people’?”

Sherman sat up and put his chin on Bill’s knee. Then he slumped back to the floor, eyes closing.

Bill shook his head. “How old is this dog?”

“He’s eight. It’s no surprise that nothing has been disturbed with him on the job--though he seemed upset when we got home.”

“I noticed that.” Bill said. “You’ll have me for your watchdog tonight. We’ll share this job, right boy?” He ruffled the dog’s head.

Ellen pushed her French twist into place, absently winding a loose strand of glossy brown hair. “It’s unusual for him to be upset at anything. Sherman’s the kind of dog who’d show the burglars exactly where to look.”

In real life we name our pets as family members. In our marriage we’ve loved and respected Kitty-kitty, Raspy, Daisy, Goldie and Puppy. Maori was the only pet we could name ourselves. Bet you can think of more descriptive names for your fictional pets. Let yourself go.

Visit Julie’s Web site at for Bewildering Stories, my bio

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Victoria Roder said...

I love animals in fiction. For animal lovers, pets are such a big part of our families seems only natural our characters would have them, too.

Liz Fountain said...

This was fun to read. I seem to have animals in all my stories, too, and they play important roles in plot and characterization - as they do in real life. In my books there's Buddy (the dog who saves the world from aliens) and Licky (the black Lab who can't hold her licker and farts to foil a kidnapping). There's a cat named Joe because the main character hates fancy names for cats.

Thanks! Liz

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

They sound like knowable beasties, Liz. I'm really sorry we never got to name more of our house pets from -- you should excuse the expression -- scratch.

January Bain said...

All so true, Julie! Best, January

Rhobin Lee Courtright said...

Like you I like to use pet to show characteristics, reactions, and emotions I don't necessarily want to put into words.